Education for Every Child Based on Their Individual Interests and Learning Needs

Let’s stop arguing and let teachers teach. 

As our public education system slips and slides down the international scale of standards and knowledge, our students and teachers are paying the price in a system run by fear and teaching to the test.

Let's Let Teachers Teach Every Student Based on Needs and Interests

What has happened to education in America?

A simple answer is politics. Instead of working together to improve a once solid system, we are becoming polarized in our political views of how education should be run.

Some believe education should run as a business. Money in, equals profit out. The profit in education is test scores and numbers, not how well our children are prepared for the workforce and their communities.

Every student is looked at as potential profit with potential return. Students who do not perform well on tests get left behind. Teachers no longer have time to work with struggling students. They must continue pumping out material so every student has an opportunity to succeed on the assessment. Those who fall behind must catch up on their own.

How we will find every child’s strengths and give them equal access to resources when we are too focused on measuring their success on paper?

Walter McKenzie, on The Whole Child Blog, says the current education system does not reference a choice or children -

  • Education is a public enterprise funded by taxpayers.
  • Government reports to taxpayers on its performance.
  • Elected officials craft policy and practice in the name of accountability.

McKenzie says our education system is being run as a “business that needs to produce numbers to justify the value.”

Some believe the way to “fix” education is to privatize it. This will allow the haves to continue to succeed and receive a strong education, while the have nots will continue to struggle to gain access to opportunities.

Others believe holding teachers and schools accountable is the right way to go. Put numbers to paper on how well each student is doing and that will rate the job of every teacher and in turn rate schools.

But what does this really do?

It takes away the individual strengths of each child, and lumps everyone into one pile – you get it or you don’t. Individual interests, ability and learning needs go out the window along with discovery and well rounded learning in an environment of fear. Educators teach in fear, students take assessments in fear.

Let’s stop the arguing and the fights over how to politically reform public education and refocus on our kids.

Focus on every single one of them and what makes them special and unique.

Let’s trust teachers make the decisions for each of their students in the classroom instead of making uneducated decisions in a courtroom. Teachers are the experts in education, not politicians.

We leave you with Silhouette Man and his opinions of American education…

Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today

Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today

 

Reading, Observation, & Funky Times

 

books, reading, girl

When we read, we are doing far more than interpreting symbols on a page.  We are privileged.  We are invited guests.  We are peeking through windows, listening through keyholes, using context clues to figure out what’s going on in both familiar and unfamiliar environments.  Our ability to put things in order, in our minds, as we read and observe a writer’s thoughts about math, history, Victorian England, Hogwarts, Narnia, cooking, movies, music, parenting, government, politics, religion, nursery rhymes, nonsense, facts, fiction. . . . anything, really, corresponds with our ability to put things in order when things are standing before us in real life.  In many ways, books ARE real life, and any time we are privileged to share another person’s thoughts and opinions, we should also be analyzing environment, facts, opinions, books, reading, boyand actions, for all of these things, and many more, are what make up life.  And life, of course, can be lived in many different ways, according to the context of the moment.

Readers are observers, of lives other than their own.  Readers are observers, and will often see what non-readers overlook.

Did I mention that readers are observers?  Let’s have a little fun with that philosophy.

Well, that was pretty cool.  Let’s think about it.  Okay, now let’s do it, too!

Something happened in class a few minutes ago.  What was it all about?  Your powers of observation are connected to your ability to understand context, and to make connections.

  1. What liquid did the professor pour into that cup?
  2. Are you sure that’s what it was? Are you SURE?
  3. What is the name of the student on whose head the cup was overturned?
  4. What is the first thing the professor said, after turning the cup upside-down on the student’s head?
  5. Did the overturned cup contain water?
  6. What else was in the overturned cup?
  7. If the overturned cup contained plain water, what should have happened when the pencil pierced it and was then removed?
  8. What does the substance in the overturned cup have to do with anything else you have learned in this class?
  9. Will the substance in the cup remain like that forever?  How do you know?
  10. What did this science experiment have to do with an exercise in reading?

Now, take your sample home and see how observant your family might be.  Those who are readers will usually do better than those who don’t read as much.

Science and reading and connections, oh my. . . . .

 

My Time as a Teacher

I have a newfound respect for teachers and educators. Wow. On May 12th, I had my first solo experience in a classroom.

As a member of the Steve Spangler Science family for almost 5 years, I have helped perform science demonstrations on a few separate occasions. All of these were done with training and practice with Steve at the office. This time was different… I was on my own.

I’m recently married and blessed with two amazing step sons, the youngest in kindergarten. His teacher recently asked me if I’d like to help with their kindergarten & fourth grade science day, as she had purchased a substantial number of Steve Spangler Science kits. As if I could turn down an opportunity to play with science gear alongside six- and ten-year-olds.

Excitement filled me over the weekend. Quality time with my son coupled with awesome science and an opportunity to teach? Count me in, one hundred times. Monday morning, however, I felt like my kindergartner. Anxiety had coupled with excitement to create a concoction of nerves like I had never felt. Oh man… I was going to be teaching.

Arriving in the classroom saw my nerves spike to their zenith. All those tiny, little eyes fixated on me and my bag of science goodies. My face definitely flushed a bit, but it was broken by my son’s, “Hi, Dad!” I could do this. It’s just like coaching soccer!

The line-up of demonstrations the teacher and I had planned ranged from Insta-Snow (a HUGE hit) to Dancing Spaghetti, using both household items and Spangler-created kits, but we started with the Energy Stick. An eager volunteer hopped up in front of the classroom to help demonstrate the concept of an open or closed circuit. Eyes lit up and ears perked as the lights and sounds of the Energy Stick filled the classroom. I could TOTALLY do this.

(SIDE NOTE: A good friend’s son was in the 4th grade class. That night, she sent a text to tell me that her son wouldn’t stop talking about and designing open and closed circuits. Science success, I do declare.)

The Energy Stick led into polymer science: Insta-Worms, Insta-Snow, and Vanishing Jelly Marbles. The teacher read Diary of a Worm aloud to the class to help tie literature into the Insta-Worms demonstration. We discussed the ties between Insta-Snow and baby diapers, and we laughed at the squishy texture of Jelly Marbles. I didn’t have to worry about the occasional stutter or awkward pause. This group of kids stared and waited on my words like I was Neil deGrasse Tyson and they were a astrophysicist-filled lecture hall. Oh yeah… I was doing this.

We capped off the hands-on demos with candy science involving Gobstoppers and M&Ms, and the grand finale of Film Canister Explosions. I’ve seen and performed the Film Canister Explosion demo a bunch of times, for teachers and students. Never have I witnessed a reaction like this before. There were screams from some of the girls, “Awesome!” from a lot of the boys, and a massive gasp from the teacher. It was absolutely brilliant. Naturally, we did it twice more in the classroom, before finishing with a rocket launch in the rain. I did it!

Teachers! I get it. I understand exactly why you work for substantially less pay than you should. I know the feeling you get when a complex subject (i.e. carbon dioxide gas from vinegar and baking soda) clicks in a young mind. I can feel what makes you want to work extra hours on your evenings and weekends, just to make sure you can cover all you want to this year. I GET IT! You put so much out there, because you get so much back. It might not always be material, immediate, or it might not even be noticeable. It is, however, so worth it.

Water Jelly Crystals Give Lesson in Transformation and Potential

water jelly crystals, potential Sometimes, our students need a little reminder that if they just wait, if they just have a little patience, wonderful things can happen. Many students don’t understand this concept unless they see a tangible example of it, and Steve Spangler’s Water Jelly Crystals are the perfect way to show them.

There is science in every subject area, and this simple experiment demonstrates to any history, English, math, health, home ec, shop, computer, yes, and science, student the very simple concept of amazing transformation, the blossoming of potential, with the addition of just one thing.

At the beginning of class, I show the students the tiny, unimpressive-looking little beads that resemble the rock salt used in winter or with homemade ice cream. What could possibly come of adding just one more thing to these hard, unattractive things?

So I put them in a clear glass bowl and add one ingredient – water. Just water.  I send a student to fill the pitcher so they’ll know it’s no trick – it really is just water.  I ask the students to let us all know if they see anything change.

Class begins as usual.

It only takes about 20 minutes for someone to stand up and say something, and that something is usually, “WOW! Look at it! Look at it, you guys!”

Because with the addition of just one simple thing, a few mundane pieces (of what looks like nothing much) have become a treasure trove of glittering jewels.

This is what education does, you see. Add one simple thing to one other simple thing and the end result is something unutterably beautiful.

It’s also a lesson in polymers, but on this particular day, it’s the transformation from blah to pirate booty that is emphasized.

It’s so simple. It’s so beautiful. And it’s a lesson that is easily understood and remembered.

I bring baggies so the students can help themselves to a handful of “gems” to take home and nourish. With education, we need to keep feeding our knowledge – that’s how things grow.

I have students who are still nurturing 6-year-old water jelly crystals on their windowsills. This makes me really, really happy.

In Her Own Words – One Teacher’s Support for Full Day Kindergarten Funding

Education remains a huge part of the national debate – how do we fund it, maintain competitive teacher salaries, encourage thoughtful learning, teach to the test and fairly equalize learning opportunities for all American children?

Should Full Day Kindergarten Be Fully Funded - A Teacher's Own Words & Thoughts | Steve Spangler Science

In Colorado, two of our state’s largest school districts have “reformer” school board majorities. These Board of Education members lack the expertise and experience needed to make decisions for thousands of Colorado students. They promised to reform and clean up the districts but instead are pulling funding from lower income children, teacher salaries and overall education improvement. All of this to support their personal beliefs, rather than the needs of thousands of students and their teachers.

Instead of taking our schools forward, these inexperienced extremists  are dismantling the core of some of the strongest school districts not only in Colorado but across the nation.

Do you really know who you are voting onto your Board of Education?

A recent debate in the Jefferson County School District continues over the funding for lower income students and full day kindergarten. The JeffCo BOE wants to cut $600,000 from the budget that would go towards providing hundreds of students with free full day kindergarten.

Despite a popular majority for the funding, the BOE will not approve it. At a recent BOE meeting, I met a teacher via Twitter who was one of hundreds of parents, teachers and students who spoke up in favor of full day kindergarten after one out of touch board member called it ‘playtime’.

I was so inspired by her bravery and speech for the BOE that I asked permission to share what she told the board. In the spirit of Teacher Appreciation Week, this is a teacher who is the foundation of teaching, a love of learning…

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Are YOU really doing what is best for these kids?
by Robin McKinnon, Jefferson County Kindergarten Teacher

As our School Board, exactly who are you representing?

You might list some statistics - our best TCAP score.
You might mention “we build bright futures” - that little purple star.
You might rattle off some celebrities – Major League pitcher Roy Halliday. Or Associate Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court Brian Boatright  or U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team forward Lindsey Horan.  Or Chevron Corporation Executive Vice President Michael Wirth. Or maybe you’ve heard of ‘em - The Fray.

You might say we’re the largest school district in Colorado. That we serve 84,000 students and we have 148 schools…but we’re more than 148 schools.

These things DON’T DEFINE us.

Many of us have grown up in this district and can stand here today with an ounce of hope. Because WE ARE JEFFCO and we will rise above as the world has watched us do before.

I walked through a JeffCo door in 1985.  I held hands with Kelly Shin, pushed out my quivering chin, gripped my California Raisin lunchbox and marched forward. It was the gentle care of Mrs. Eichman who made me want to come back the next day.

You have ALL walked through the doors of kindergarten. MORE IMPORTANTLY your CHILDREN have walked through OUR doors.

The graduating class of 2027 will walk into MY door in three and a half months.

Is Kindergarten even academic?

I am teaching my students to dream big. They are more than a purple star and a slogan. They are more than a TCAP score.

I do more than raise achievement.
And teach to the core.

I am more than a sweet bulletin board.

Or a well polished SMART Board.

Because I care.

I will not compromise their future.

I want to be a part of this district reaching its goals. 

I am more than a lesson planner and a classroom manager. 

Because I’ve walked through those doors.

I am a lifelong learner, and a TEACHER who will not be bullied into silence. 

I am the safe space when things get scary.

The lock-down assurance.

Their human shield.

AND the undisputed understanding that things will be okay.

I am a gingerbread hunt creating life from the words on pages.

I am the best Mother’s day tea you have ever had.

I am a song that puts knowledge into your heart.

I am the painting that makes creativity come to life.

I am a clay project, math cubes, morning hugs, a new pencil and a journal with huge handwriting, working at a tiny chair at the tiniest tables, counting on fingers, a puzzle done in a team with no missing pieces, a globe showing just how close we really are.

Do Not Say “been there, done that” unless you’ve walked through my doors.

Unless you’ve

  • helped write a research paper
  • pen-pal’d with teachers all over the world
  • helped give the words to STAND UP to a BULLY
  • taught that life is valuable and precious and that WE belong together no matter our religion, size, ethnicity OR class.

I am the foundation of teaching, the love of learning.

Looking for YOU ALL to believe in me.

For these kids.

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Ms. McKinnon – we believe in you and all the kids you and the thousands of teachers across our state and nation who are truly the foundation of teaching, the love of learning.